The third quarter of the NFL regular season is in the books. Guaranteed their first losing season in two years (while currently sitting at 3-9) after being on the brink of a breakthrough, I’d have to say that for the Oakland Raiders’ fans, things don’t appear to be looking up. Now before you start pulling your hair out and screaming for heads (as I have been), let’s take a statistical look at what has been on display and try to put things in perspective for the way forward.
As usual I will start with the offensive stats.
Stats compiled from NFL.com
Overall offensive ranking-13th__+5 from the midseason
Passing- 8th __ +2 from the midseason
Rushing- 29th __ +2 from the midseason (thank you Mr. Reece)
Receiving- 7th __+3 from the midseason
Touchdowns- 26th __ +2 from the midseason
Offensive line- 14th __ - 8 from the midseason
Ok, so there it is in black and white. Now in looking at the Offensive statistics if you were asked to predict the record for this team you would be hard pressed to guess 3-9 based on those numbers alone. Clearly there was statistical improvement from the midseason on paper. So what happened? There are so many contributors it’s hard to decide where to begin. So let’s move on over to the other side of the ball for now.
Overall Defensive ranking- 28th __ -11 from the midseason
Total Yards- 28th __ -11 from the midseason
Passing- 25th __ -5 from the midseason
Rushing- 28th __ -17 from the midseason
Sacks- 31st __ -1 from the midseason
Scoring- 32nd __ -8 from the midseason (yes that is dead last)
Tackles- 13th __-6 from the midseason
Interceptions- 24th __ -2 from the midseason
Now with these numbers the picture becomes a little clearer why the Raiders currently sit at 3-9. While there has been minimal improvement from midseason in almost every Offensive statistic listed, there has been significant regression in EVERY defensive statistic listed.
Just because the Raiders look decent offensively on paper does not mean they are playing that way. Carson Palmer is without a doubt the best "garbage time" Quarter back to ever play the game. So many of the Raiders’ offensive statistics come during "garbage time" that the above listed statistics are arguably misrepresenting what is really on display on the field.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Carson Palmer is a decent leader/QB and has the ability to win games at a high level. If only this weren’t a team sport, he would probably already have a Lombardy trophy to his credit. Unfortunately, it is a team sport. I say that to include players and coaches all the way from the top to the bottom.
On a side bar-I have seen Carson Palmer (on more than one occasion this season) throw a critical interception within the "20’s" during what was shaping up to be a decent comeback drive, thus putting the game out of reach. Interceptions in the red zone on a come-back drive with time running out can and will almost always take the wind out of any teams sail. I have to wonder now if Palmer is capable of winning close games.
I think the rookie Head coach, rookie GM, Retread OC and Rookie DC conversations have been beaten to death in every media outlet already this year, so I’m not going to go into that in too much detail. Most of you bothering to read this already know how I feel on that aspect, if not I can sum it up.
Kanpp- abysmal performance just like last time he was here. Tarver- the last option and a desperate pick late in the window for selecting a DC. He is what he is. There is promise there but I feel he was thrust into this a few years too early. Allen- you work with what you have as far as players go. Great coaches get the most out of average players and sustain the performance of their top level performers. Not many top level performers on this team so I don’t fault him there, but as far as getting more out of the average players, it can be argued that he is failing miserably. I do see that as his fault since he was given anonymity to pick his own staff, and I do hold him accountable for the Gregg Knapp "offensive" Offense on display currently.
Reggie McKenzie is another conversation all together. I’m not sure if he picked Dennis Allen because he really believed he was the best man for the job, or if it was because no one else would come here to coach due to the stigma that has plagued the Raiders franchise for the last decade. One thing I do believe is that the current Raiders GM does have a proven eye for talent. He knows how to build a team to win championships, and he knows the tradition of the Raiders franchise. That leads me to two theories.
1. Dennis Allen is the man for the job and the product on the field is purely circumstantial based on historic poor decision making of the previous owner Al Davis. In the years to come Dennis Allen will shine bright and show his ability to coach a team being built from the ground up with perennial playoff hopes. Dennis Allen is everything Reggie McKenzie scouted him to be and will prove through in the long run. Fans will just have to trust the judgment of the man who hired him and believe he is what Mr. McKenzie believes him to be.
2. Reggie McKenzie knew that the next Head coach of the Raiders would fail, and as opposed to bringing in a name that would be tarnished by the ability of the 2012 and 2013 Raiders players and situation, he elected to throw a young and naïve rookie in the fire while biding time for the future coach. The plan is to have Dennis Allen fail so badly that the Raiders are able to rebuild the team through the draft. Once salary cap problems are fixed, all exceptional talent is traded for future draft picks and all "bad seeds" are removed from the locker room, then Reggie can really bring in "his guy" (who he has known all along) and officially start the next dynasty.
Is #2 really that farfetched? I guess when you read it aloud it is. My attempts to make sense of some of the decision with this team leave my head feeling like it did the night after I went to Tijuana in my 20’s. It was hurting, throbbing, and completely void of all memory as I was left wondering why I smelled like I slept in a donkey stable the night before, yet I had fifty more dollars I my pocket than I had when the night started.
This Defense has definitely taken a step backwards. That is saying a lot given what fans were watching on a weekly basis last year. It starts with the coaching and moves directly to the front line. There is a serious lack of talent in almost every aspect of the defense. Actually it is hard to argue against upgrading any position on this defense. Suspending Rolando McClain was long overdue in my opinion. Had I displayed that kind of effort on my pee wee team I would have been cut myself.
Offensively, the Raiders aren’t looking much better. There is significant talent upgrades needed across the board. Again, it starts with the coaching and moves directly to the line. I don’t believe the problem is scheme, as much as it is who is teaching it and the plays being called. Some of the senior leadership within the Raiders franchise have alluded to this in vague pressers recently.
Obviously there is going to be change in the offseason. What change will come fans will have to wait and see. The Raiders have been openly adamant about sustaining the current coaching staffing throughout the rest of the season for "evaluation" purposes. I think this may be a bad idea, and here is why.
Waiting until the season is over limits the time they can vet new prospects. I don’t believe Dennis Allen is leaving, nor do I think his jettison from the team is a requirement at this stage. I do believe that either one or the other (Knapp or Tarver) coordinator will be gone. Personally I would prefer to see Knapp leave, but if you look on paper at the statistics the defensive problems appear to be worse.
Changing both coordinators (again) is just too drastic in this fans opinion. Although many of the current players on the roster would adapt to the situation since it would be so familiar, but it is not a recipe for continuity in any regard, and over the years that seems to be one glaring vacancy in the Raiders’ locker room, consistency.
There are many options that the Raiders have: Such as fire Knapp and promote Al Saunders to OC. Saunders has years of experience and success and also a huge playbook that comes with him. Although this option seems doubtful due to Dennis Allen’s commitment to the ZBS, I would like to believe that Saunders has the mental faculties to do a better job at that than Knapp has, even though the ZBS is not his preference.
There will be many DC available at the end of the year, many of which have already been mentioned as favorites on this site. I would personally like to see Tarver stick around but not as the DC, as a position coach. I think he needs a few more years of experience coaching at this level and the responsibility of running the entire defense seems to be overwhelming to him. I feel like he should sit behind a stout defensive mind for a few more years and then take the reins.
I believe the future of this team will be built through the draft. I believe that nearly every one of our "big name" talents on this team will be traded in an attempt to acquire stock in the future. Some of those names include McFadden and Reece. While Reece has been a bright spot as of late, I think all he has done is replace the void of draft stock for McFadden since his injury. He is a potent versatile weapon and should garner at least a 3rd rounder.
If the model RM is following is the same one that was applied in Green Bay, Raiders fans can expect nearly the entire player personnel staff to be turned over next year. Fans can expect the Raiders to trade down in the draft to acquire more picks in an attempt to put more mid range dependable talent on the roster, as opposed to big name playmakers. Fans can expect Dennis Allen to stay for at least another year, as well as one of the coordinators. And, if the success of this model holds true, fans can expect consistent playoff hopes in 3-5 years. Which seems about right, since I assume Peyton Manning will be retiring around that time?
This Franchise is truly in a sad state of affairs since the passing of Al Davis. However, fans have to like the fire that is coming from his son Marc Davis. This is on display through locker room press conferences putting leadership on public notice, while articulating that subtly without directly naming any one person. He has truly picked up the art of being an owner quickly. Not to mention the heated 5 hour conversation he had with Dennis Allen on the plane ride home from Cincinnati. Mr. Davis is doing what he can with what he has.
Hang in there Raider fans. The future is brighter than it appears. While there is still the possibility that this thing can get worse, the likelihood of that happening is minimal. It’s going to take time and that’s not something that any Raider fan wants to hear after watching this team for the past 10 years. Many (including myself) have labeled this year as "rebuilding" for the Raiders, however I now believe that this year is the prelude to the actual rebuilding and over the course of the next two years we will see a complete overturn of this Franchise from top to bottom. But for this year, since a winning record is no longer mathematically possible, all I would like to see is one of the coordinators fired before the season ends so the Raiders can start vetting early and won’t be on the back end this time getting stuck with rookies and retreads. Hopefully my end of year assessment will start something like "after the Denver game Gregg Knapp was fired and Al Saunders took over the OC duties".